Frank Duff, Founder of the Legion of Mary, 7 June 1889 - 7 November 1980
I met Frank Duff only once, at a meeting of the Legion of Mary's central governing body, the Concilium, in Dublin in 1976 during my first visit home from the Philippines. However, I was very much aware of him from my primary school days and I remember my teacher in Fourth Class ('Grade' in the Philippines), John Galligan, speaking about him. I joined the Legion of Mary, which Frank Duff founded on 7 September 1921, during my first year in secondary school and it had a formative influence on me.
I have never quite understood the criticisms of the Legion, especially from priests. It is a body that teaches its members to be responsible and to be accountable for their actgions or lack thereof. Legionaries work in pairs and may never work alon, which means that if you don't turn up your companioncan't do what he was assigned to do. The weekly meetings begin on time and, importantly, end on time. No open-ended stuff where nothing gets done. It balances prayer, study of the Legion Handbook, reporting and receiving assignments.
Though he grew up in a middle-class family, Frank Duff knew poverty from his experience as a member of the St Vincent de Paul Society while a young civil servant in Dublin. He was a man of action and his actions came from his profound faith and his great love for the Blessed Mother. As I know from the late Fr Aedan McGrath, a Columban priest who spent nearly three years in solitary confinement in China between 1950 and 1953 because of his involvement with the Legion of Mary in that country and who was a great friend of the Legion's founder, Frank Duff had to struggle with his temper. I find this consoling and encouraging. I pray to him every day.
The official webiste of the Legion of Mary is here.
Frank Duff also had a deep sense of patriotism, which economist Finola Kennedy's article in today's issue of The Irish Times shows. I've highlighted parts of the article and added [comments].
Legion founder's principles still very relevant
RITE AND REASON : The mover behind the Legion of Mary offered hope, saying Ireland had immense possibilities. ['Rite and Reason' is a series dealing with faith.]
FRANK DUFF is best known as the founder of the Legion of Mary, but it is generally forgotten that he spent 26 years as a civil servant. [He probably would have risen to the top had he not resigned to devote himself full-time to the Legion of Mary].
In the 1940s, a small group consisting of Duff, León Ó Broin [another civil servant and bigorapher by avocation], Joe Walshe, later Irish ambassador to the Vatican, Paddy Little, a founder member of Fianna Fáil [the biggest and dominant party in Irish politics from 1932 until the recent election when they went from having 76 seats to only 20, from being the biggest party to only the third] and then minister for posts and telegraphs, and Seán Ryan, editor of the Irish Catholic, would spend time discussing the general betterment of Ireland. [All men with a sense of service.]
Little mentioned to then taoiseach [prime minister] Éamon de Valera that Duff was seeking ways to improve the situation in Ireland, and the latter suggested Duff be asked to draw up a memorandum for him. It is revealing to read it today, as it might have been written in the current context.
He wrote: “Our present position is that of disillusion, disheartenment, utter perplexity, cynicism, apathy. In such a mood, and with the misgiving creeping into so many hearts that the nation is no more than a big racket, what chance is there that its children will serve it worthily or sacrifice themselves for it? Elemental instinct in us rebels violently against the notion of mere exploitation in the name of a sacred cause.” [There was much of this in the last year or two but the recent election and the formation of a new government seems to have brought a sense of hope.]
His memo called for a set of “national principles” which would help generate practical idealism. [Note 'practical idealism'.] In drawing up these ideals for Ireland, Duff said terms such as “democracy”, “social justice” or “a Christian nation” should not be used “as mere catch-cries”. Christianity must be authentic, not a mere sham or caricature.
Of Christianity in Ireland, he said: “Without the practical living of the full Christian duty, the theory is fruitless; without it we are thrown back on the caricature of Christianity.” [I wonder if the widespread rejection of the Christian faith in Ireland in recents years is a rejection of the 'caricature of Christianity' that Duff writes about?]
In his memorandum Duff offered hope, saying Ireland had immense possibilities. [The same applies to the Philippines and everywhere else].
To clarify the meaning of “Ireland a nation”, he suggested the government should select four or five persons of very different types, including at least one Protestant, who would examine the question privately and who would then present a draft set of national principles. [Indonesia has something like this, though I don't iknow how effective it is].
De Valera asked that Duff should himself “attack that task”. The principles Duff proposed were based on an overarching Christianity, where each man cared for his fellow man.
The first principle for the State should be the recognition of every person as an individual, not merely as part of a herd. [The Legion of Mary Handbook is imbued with this.] The second was equality of treatment. All sorts of discrimination must be eliminated. The third was that everyone should contribute to the nation according to ability. [So many incidents in the Gospels are of Jesus enabling individuals to be fully part of the community.] This included preparedness to undertake some voluntary work. [No 'pie in the sky' here. Ireland sitll has a strong sense of voluntarism, especially among the young, though not always related directly to our Christian faith.]
Duff sent his memorandum to de Valera, who was out of office within weeks after the 1948 vote. When de Valera was returned as taoiseach in 1951, he did not revert to the matter with Duff.
Duff’s concern for the state of the nation continued, and he sought practical ways in which his ideas could be used. With the Legion he undertook a number of community-building projects, for example at Inchigeela in Co Cork and at Tuosist in Co Kerry.
Almost everyone seems to want to blame “the system” at the moment – political, financial or regulatory. But perhaps the system failed because right principles were not applied.
Finola Kennedy is an economist. Her book, Frank Duff: A Life, will be published in the autumn by Continuum. You can also read her article om Studies Issue 364, vol.91, Winter 2002: Frank Duff's Search for the Neglected and Rejected.
Prayer for the Beatification of Frank Duff
God our Father, You inspired your servant Frank Duff with a profound insight into the mystery of Your Church, the Body of Christ, and of the place of Mary the Mother of Jesus in this mystery.
In his immense desire to share this insight with others and in filial dependence on Mary he formed her Legion to be a sign of her maternal love for the world and a means of enlisting all her children in the Church's evangelising work.
We thank you Father for the graces conferred on him and for the benefits accruing to the Church from his courageous and shining faith. With confidence we beg You that through his intercession you grant the petition we lay before You . ............... We ask too that if it be in accordance with Your will, the holiness of his life may be acknowledged by the Church for the glory of your Name, through Christ Our Lord,
With ecclesiastical approval
The Legion website has a lovely portrait of Frank Duff by Síle Ní Chochláin, Vice President, Concilium Legionis Mariae: THE SERVANT OF GOD, FRANK DUFF – AS I KNEW HIM